Adventures Beyond The Beach

By Jeff & Stephanie Sylva

Located 60 miles south of Tampa on Florida’s West Coast, Sarasota and her string of 8 islands boast some of the best beaches in Florida and the whole U.S. Sure, everyone enjoys a day at the beach relaxing in the warm sunshine. But you also want to fill your days with activities. And the Sarasota area has many vital attractions and adventures to keep you and your family busy for days.

One must activity is to take a guided kayak tour of the Lido Key mangrove tunnels with Kayaking SRQ. Even if you have never kayaked, you will have a safe and enjoyable experience paddling Lido Key’s hidden gem. With one of Kayaking SRQ’s expert guides providing instruction and a wealth of information about the mangroves and the origin of the tunnels, you will quickly feel at ease on your kayak. And be prepared for some great photo opportunities.

Get a close-up look at many marine animals with a visit to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. Mote is not only an aquarium with various exhibits, but it is also a working marine laboratory. As a result, Mote offers a blend of entertainment and education. One of its exhibits is the 135,000-gallon open-water Shark Zone. Here, you can learn about these fascinating creatures based on the research Mote has been doing on sharks since its opening in 1955. Other exhibits include manatees, stingrays, sea turtles, playful sea otters, and many more marine animals.

Spend two fun-filled hours on a floating tropical island with LeBarge Tropical Cruises. The boat’s open-air top deck is outfitted with palm trees and party lights. The Tropical Sunset Cruise creates a perfect atmosphere to soak in the beauty of the setting sun while listening to the live music of Jimmy Buffet-styled entertainers. LeBarge Tropical Cruises also offers a variety of other cruises. A light fare menu and an excellent selection of tropical cocktails and other beverages are available. 

After all the fun on the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay waters, enjoy a peaceful stroll through the tranquil paths and beautiful gardens of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Located on the shores of Sarasota Bay in Downtown Sarasota, the parks provide a tropical oasis in an urban setting. The Downtown Campus comprises 15 acres and includes the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads, ferns, and other tropical plants. The 30-acre Spanish Point Campus, located about 10 miles south of Downtown, showcases native Florida plants.

Take some time to experience the city. Offering ten different tour themes, Discover Sarasota Tours allows you to explore exactly what you want about Sarasota. There’s a City Sightseeing Tour, where you can learn Sarasota’s history, culture, and neighborhoods.

Or maybe you are intrigued by the history of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus—there’s a tour for that. There are museums, gardens, and the stately home of John and Mable Ringling. This extravagant Ringling legacy includes the Ringling Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, Ca’d’Zan—the Ringling’s magnificent home on Sarasota Bay’s shores—and the beautiful Bayfront Gardens.

It’s not precisely the circus, but has lions, tigers, and bears. Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary is an eastern Sarasota County animal reserve. The non-profit sanctuary is a permanent home for dozens of exotic animals, offering a placement for needy animals. The main attractions here are the lions and tigers—and the unusual species of ligers and tigons (the result of mating lions with tigers). Visitors can also enjoy a petting zoo and wildlife shows.

Another unique venue is the Myakka Elephant Ranch—a non-profit conservation center, focused on educating guests on elephant conservation. Guests can participate in primary care of the elephants, such as preparing meals, feeding, and bathing. Currently, the ranch cares for three elephants, two Asian and one African.

Keeping your activity outdoors is easy because Sarasota County has many state parks, preserves, and parks offering plenty of fishing, hiking, kayaking, walking, biking, and bird-watching opportunities. Myakka River State Park offers 58 square miles of unspoiled wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands. Oscar Scherer State Park has fifteen miles of walking/hiking trails and ten miles of biking trails. The very popular 18.5-mile-long Legacy Trail, a paved walking and biking path running from Sarasota to Venice, runs directly through this park. Sarasota’s Celery Fields offers over 300 acres of wetlands with opportunities to spot more than 200 bird species.

Be sure to experience Pop Stroke—the experiential golf and casual dining venue offering two unique putting courses designed by Tiger Woods and his TGR Design team. The putting courses are built entirely with synthetic turf, incorporating fairways, bunkers, and rough just as you would see on a traditional golf course.

When you head to Sarasota be sure to experience its vibrant Arts & Culture offerings. Known as “Florida’s Cultural Coast,” Sarasota has a wealth of museums, art galleries, and performing art venues. There are nine performing arts organizations less than a mile from the center of Sarasota.  

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